Archive for the 'Random' Category

Standing desk

About a fortnight ago three articles about standing desks all hit my Twitter feed from different directions. Since the article a few months ago about how sitting for more than three hours a day shortens your lifespan the idea of a standing desk has been lurking at the back of my mind. The appearence of these articles was the final push to give it a try.

The next day I was working from home so I took the opportunity to try out a makeshift standing desk. Here’s the mark one desk:

OK, so it’s a bit hacky. I didn’t really have an idea of the optimum height of things so the keyboard and mouse started out on top of two boxfiles and I added hardbacks to the pile until the height felt comfortable. Another layer of books went on the pile after I took the picture above.

Standing to work was more comfortable on my legs than I would have expected. The only aggravation that I had was to my wrist. The initial setup had the mouse too low which put my wrist at an odd angle. The later setup was an improvement, but the damage had already been done and mid-afternoon I was sitting to work again.

That weekend I tried a new setup in the study. The mark two desk:

This one is better. I’ve been working at it for two weekends and I’m typing at it now. It’s pretty comfortable, but not perfect. When we move house I’m going to have handyman husband build me a bespoke one. What I’ve learned from this one is that the keyboard level needs to come up two inches and the screen level eight inches.

The standing desk makes me shift my position an awful lot. And I take more breaks. I feel like all of these things are better for my health and energy levels, but I haven’t been able to quantify the effect it has had on my productivity. I’ve definitely got a lot done over the past couple of weekends, but would I have done less sitting down – I don’t know. However I am going to carry on with the experiment, at leat until we move.

Birthdays

I am older now. My 28th birthday came and went last week. I celebrated with friends, flowers, wine, and oysters. It’s good to be a little older and hopefully wiser, saner, and stabler.

The other milestone that occurred last week was that, had he still been alive, it would have been my Grampi’s 100th birthday. My Grampi, my father’s father, died when I was 11. He was my favourite grandparent. I celebrated his birthday quietly and thoughtfully, and reflected on the following facts:

  • Many of the characteristics that I am proud of in myself come from him: sense and style of humour, storytelling tendencies, smarts. Though there are some characteristics from that side of the family that I’m not so happy with  – short, hot temper and migraines, mainly.
  • When Grampi was my age, the Second World War was starting. The world has changed so much since then, in good ways and in bad.  I find it very hard to imagine the world that he grew up in.
  • That I really wish I’d had the chance to know my Grampi when I was an adult. We really adored each other when I was a child. I wonder what he would have made of me as an adult. He was great fun to play around with when I was a child. I know he was a really great person for an adult to sit down and have a laugh with. But I never got to have that experience.  I am really thankful for what I do have. A good relationship and good times had and still to have with my Dad and my aunt, and all the other members of the family. When we get together it’s easy to see those bit of Grampi in all of us, in the way we laugh together and the stories we tell. He’s in a lot of those stories – my Grampi was kind of legendary.

House decluttering and apocalypse planning

Box and packing tapeDue to Dan’s job move in the London direction, we are putting our house in Eastleigh on the market. Despite the fact that this is really Dan’s house which I moved into later, I’ve been able to put my stamp on it in certain places and I’ve really come to love it as a home. But everything has its season and the end of my season in Hampshire is in sight.

To get back to the point, we are putting the house on the market and in order to make it look more attractive and salable all received wisdom says that we should make it look uncluttered and anonymous. Last week I went through a frenzy of tidying, throwing, and giving things away. This reached his peak when Emmaus arrived at the same time that I had an estate agent over to value the place and I gave Emmaus the sofa that the estate agent was sitting on from under him.

Every room but one has had this treatment. The remaining room is the study, aka Kat’s den of books and craft supplies.This poses a problem, because I love to hoard. I love to declutter too. A lot of my life is finding a balance between that momentary high of getting rid of clutter followed by the less momentary but still quite short-lived happiness of having a tidy room, and the warm glow of satisfaction I get when I can put my hand on exactly what I need at the time I need it because I have stored said thing for just this occasion. (I apologise to those reader patiently waiting for the apocalypse promised in the title – I do keep getting sidetracked. Rest assured the apocalypse is coming.)

So I love to hoard. Especially books. You never know when you’ll need them or want to reread them. Dealing with my book clutter was a challenge. I rolled up my sleeves and set to work sorting into three piles: give away, pack away, leave out. The line between pack away and leave out was a hard one to manage. We don’t know how long it will take to sell our house. What if I pack away too many books and am left with nothing to read? I’m already (less than 12 hours later) regretting having packed away some of my reference books that I now want to refer to. I should have thought about it harder at the time, but I was on a roll and they fit the spaces in the box perfectly.

The ‘give away’ pile ended up larger than I expected. Dan and I negotiated back and forth over quite a few books. The argument for getting rid of a lot of the reference books was – ‘We just look that stuff up on the internet anyway’. The discard pile grew. “But what about when the zombie apocalypse comes and there is no internet” I objected. That put things in a slightly different light. Which books did we need to keep in order to refer to when running for our lives or rebuilding society?

  • ‘Guide to knife throwing’ – extremely useful in the case of zombie apocalypse. We’d need to be proficient in all methods of zombie extermination. Plus, ‘I still have the throwing knives and target’. Verdict: Keep.
  • “Alan Titchmarsh’s How to be a gardener” – useful for when all the supermarkets have been raided and we have to grow our own food to survive. Even with all the resources of the internet and our books, we can’t keep plants alive. Last years crop consisted of mostly chillies, a couple of tomatoes, three strawberries, and the one radish that the slugs didn’t get. If an apocalypse comes which requires us to grow our own food, our only option might be to kidnap Alan Titchmarsh himself and make him grow food for us. Or eat our books. Verdict: Give away.
  • ‘Encyclopedia of Magic’ – useful if the zombies possess childlike awe and fascination for the art of magic. One of us could make shiny coins disappear as a distraction while the rest of the party make good their escape from the zombies. As I’ve never seen this scenario play out in a zombie movie, I’d estimate its chances of success are limited. Verdict Give away.

OK, that last one was a reach, but lists look prettier in odd numbers.

The upshot is that I’ll be bringing a pile of books into IBM Hursley on Monday to give away. So if you’re interested in cooking, gardening, Garfield, choose your own adventures, or Tom Clancy and his spin-offs there might be something for you.

2011 Goals

So I’m back on the blog and it’s been a while.

I thought I’d start off this new year by talking about my New Year’s Resolutions and what I’m going to do to keep them. My resolutions can be boiled down to three key words: Writing, Happiness and Wellness.

In each of my three categories I’ve picked three things to track in order to keep my focus on these goals throughout the year. For each category I have two quantitative measures and one qualitative/catchall category.

Writing

My original goal for this year was to get a paid, in-print publish. Of course to do that I need to get things written, and more importantly rewritten and edited. Getting from first draft to second feels harder for me than getting from blank page to first draft. So far this year I’m managing to write fairly consistently two days out of every three. I’d like to increase that to every day.

My three metrics for writing are:

  • Fiction words per day
  • Other words per day (including blogging, articles, and plotting and planning)
  • What writing related activities I have done that day

 

Happiness

I like being happy, and I would like to happy for more of the time. It seems to come very easily to a lot of people. I’ve seen a number of internet articles that indicate that how happy you are on average is a fixed quantity and doesn’t change very much throughout your life. Some people are just upbeat and full of the bright side; others are anxiety-ridden worrywarts. (I put myself in the latter category). Well screw that – I’m going to work hard at being happy this year, and see if I can’t change my average happiness.  I’m hoping that working towards my other goals will rub off in the happiness department. Other than that I’ve not got any clear ideas right now about the things I can do to make myself more happy.

My three metrics for happiness are:

  • Average happiness in the day (0-100%, with 50% an average day)
  • Peak daily happiness (0-100% again)
  • What made me happy today

 

Wellness

In this category I’m mostly going to concentrate on physical wellness. The Happiness category should take care of psychological wellness. My goals here are to be more active, eat less and more healthily, drink more water, and get the right amount of sleep. I find it hard to keep all of these good habits, but I know that I feel orders of magnitude better in body and in mind on the days where I get three out of four of those things done.

My three metrics for wellness are:

  • Number of steps taken in the day
  • Waistline measurement (I’m not expecting this to change very quickly, but I’m hoping to see a two or three inches change in the year)
  • What exercise did I do today

 

You know what they say about good intentions, but I’m hoping to stick with these goals throughout the year.

Folded secrets

My most recent craft endeavour was a ‘Folded Secrets’ booklet. These booklets are based on Chinese (Miao) thread booklets. A local lady learned how to make these in China and now sells a book showing the method.***

The booklets are made of folded, cut and glued paper which form boxes which fold up closed and flat.

Folded secrets booklet

The picture above shows two of the compartments open. There are 13 compartments in total (the instructions were for 15, but I wanted my red paper on both the top and bottom so I omitted a layer in order that the colours alternate). The bottom compartment is almost square and is the full width of the booklet. Then there are two layers of long boxes on each side, one of which you can see open on the lefthand side of the picture. On top of the long compartments there are two square compartments per side (in black). On top of each of these is a red compartment that twists open. See top right of the picture for the twisty compartment in its open position and bottom right for what it looks like closed.

The black boxes are made of simple thin black card. The red boxes are made from a more interesting paper. It is brown parcel paper scrunched up and repeatedly distressed until it is both very crumply and sort of fabricky in feel. I then brushed gold acrylic onto the paper with light strokes from a fairly dry brush. This way the gold paint only went on to the raised areas of the crumple. Once the gold acrylic dried I put a wash of water-based red Brusho onto the paper. Because the Brusho is water based the acrylic resists it so the gold shines through. Once the Brusho dried I varnished the paper with a watered down PVA glue mix. I decorated both sides of the paper in the same way.

Traditionally the folded secrets booklets have a plain fabric cover. After having laboured so long and so lovingly over my red paper I was reluctant to cover it up. I made a cover out of the black card painted with PVA and with gold tissue scrunched on. This cover I didn’t attach to the booklet, just wrapped it around and tied it with a leather thong.

***Update: Because this lady went all the way to China to find out how to make these booklets and makes money from selling the information she worked hard to gather I’m reluctant to share the exact method and measurements, even if the ‘intellectual property’ technically belongs to crafters in China.

Update: Ruth Smith is the name of the lady who wrote the booklet. She doesn’t have a website (as far as my Googling can see) but here’s a link to a forum that has her email address as well as some photographs of traditional folded secrets thread booklets.

Cycling, Gardening

It’s been a quiet month on the blog. Mostly because I haven’t had much to talk about. Work’s been busy and the Easter holidays gave me a break from my course that I failed to use to get more sewing done.  What I have done recently is cycle and garden.

Cycling

I have a blind spot when it comes to bets, and dares – which are essentially the same thing but cheaper. So when a discussion with a colleague about health and fitness took an abrupt turn into him betting me that I couldn’t cycle to work three days a week for six weeks I had agreed to it before I’d even given it much thought. The prize is £10, which isn’t much when you consider that’s for thirty-six 7 mile stretches. I should have asked for more money – that would be more of an incentive not to just say “stuff it – I’ll pay a tenner to not cycle today cos it’s wet/I’m tired/I’m lazy”.

I got started last weekend. I chased around almost every Halfords in Hampshire to get the bike I wanted. A low end ‘town and trail’ bike, not one with super thin tyres – I feel too out of control on those types of tyre. Once I got the bike home I had a slow pedal around the alleyways to get used to being on a bike again. Despite it having been several years since I’ve cycled on a regular basis I quickly got back into the swing of it and back to a point where I was confident on main roads. Saturday I explored bits of Eastleigh I didn’t know very well and finding myself a back way up to the top of Otterbourne Hill – I think I was out on the bike for a couple of hours. On Sunday I did a dry run of cycling to work, but with no pressure and less traffic. I was knackered when I got to Hursley, but my knight-in-shining-car picked me up at the pub and drove me and the bike home.

I’ve managed he first week OK. The second day was hardest. I ached all over and it would have been really easy to go in the car, but I forced myself to cycle. I got to be proud of myself by the end of the week that I didn’t wuss out like I often do. Big downside is that my saddle region hurts like hell, and it gets worse every time I cycle. 😦

Gardening

We’ve been gradually making improvements to the garden. Last year Dan and I built decking at the top of the garden, this year we covered the rest with gravel and started buying pots and plants and seeds. We’ve got loads of herbs, chillis, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, parsnip, beetroot, carrot, spring onion, tomato, rocket, pepper, and butternut squash. It’s so very cool to see things growing and changing every day, and it’s going to be even more cool to eat something we grew ourselves. I always remember the veg that my Dad grew on his allotment tasted so much better than the shop bought stuff.

Check and Send madness

I now, finally, have my passport. The amount of pain and aggro that I had to go through to get the bloody thing sent off… it is causing me pain even to think of it now.

The Post Office offer a ‘Check and Send’ service for £6.85 where they’ll look over your application before sending it on to the passport office – where it is prioritised. Sounds pretty good in theory. In practise it was such a ridiculous farce that I almost gave it up as a bad job and resigned myself to never passing a port again.

The first time I went to the PO I was told that the application form was fine, but I’d need to get it countersigned as I had changed from the photograph. Fair enough, I asked a colleague to sign that I was me and returned to the PO…

This time I was told that I had gone out of some of the boxes on the computer-readable form. These infractions were generally of the slightest sort – tails of Rs and Ys just going over the edge. The substance of the letter was in the box and any computer system that freaked out over a couple of atoms of ink outside the lines should be sent back. Another of the offending letters was one I had corrected slightly, and this wasn’t allowed. Once you’ve made a single small mistake you’re stuffed and have to go back for another form. Again ‘fair enough’, but these problems had been present the previous check.

OK – new form, filled out in scrupulously minute letters, my countersignatory threatened with dire consequences if he dared to go out of any of the boxes. Back to the PO. This time the problem was the photograph. It says in the pamphlet to not trim all the white off the edge of the photo, which I abided by. My colleague wrote (what is a large amount of text to squeeze into a passport photoshaped space) on the back of the untrimmed photo. The problem this time was that some of his text was over the back of the white area, not the photo. Fair enou… no wait – not fair enough – they tell me not to trim, but don’t tell me not to let my countersignatory write on the back of the white bits. And again the problem was there on the previous check – why can’t they tell me all the problems at once instead of forcing me to return again and again and again.

Fourth time lucky I thought. I got another photo trimmed it – but not all the way to the edges. I pressed it up against the window so I could see the photo area and I outlined it in pencil. This photo I returned to my long-suffering countersignatory and he signed within the lines. Back to the Post Office, nothing could go wrong this time surely. The form had already been checked and the only problem found last time was the photo. This time it was going to get through. Nope – this time it was spotted that my countersignatory had failed to put my middle name on his part of the form, though he had put it on the back of the photo. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Another problem which had been there the previous time and gone unremarked on. Just send it, just send it, just send the form! I was either going to cry or explode at this point. I’m glad Dan was there to stop me breaking down and starting to sob in the middle of Winchester PO, or renouncing my British citizenship and going to live on the Principality of Sealand.

Just send it – I’ll take the risk. The way the clerk was telling it a lot depended on the mood of the person at the passport office doing the processing. I was willing to gamble on someone having a good day.

Thankfully the gamble paid off. I now have a brand spanking new passport with one of those funky chip things in the back – which seems like a waste as it doesn’t have any biometric stuff on it.

Next thing to do is to think about making use of it. Cuba, New Zealand, Japan, America…? America maybe, NY or Pacific Northwest. Now to convince Dan of the plan.


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